An assembly of stars imaginative minds long ago connected to make a shape of a scorpion is well seen in mid-summer just after darkness falls. Just look low in the south-southwest if you live in mid-northern latitudes (and you most likely do if you read this column!).
The brightest star of Scorpius the Scorpion is Antares, a nearly first magnitude star with a distinct red-orange hue. This year (2015) Scorpius appears to have another bright star, the planet Saturn. The sixth planet from the sun shines more brilliantly than Antares and is more of a yellow-white shade. Careful watch night to night, especially with binoculars, will show that Saturn is gradually shifting past the background stars, but due to its slow motion, stays in the same general area through this summer.
If you have a chance to see the stars from a dark area, free of most light pollution and have a good, open sky low in the south, you can best appreciate the splendor of this region. The Scorpion constellation is easily traced, with stars marking its curving tail, body and pincers. Antares marks the fiery red heart of Scorpius. The “pincer” stars are to the upper right of Antares. Saturn is situated just to the right of these stars.
Full moon was on July 31; each night this week the moon rises later and later, giving you a widening window of relative darkness to see the fainter stars. With a dark sky, you can see the brightest portion of the hazy Milky Way Band among (actually behind) the stars of the bright stars of Scorpius, and the stars of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer, which is just to the left of Scorrpius. This is the area of the central hub of the Milky Way Galaxy, and from a dark site in the far south you can see it high in the sky in all its glory.
You may feast on the marvels of the night with eyes alone; there is no need to buy binoculars or a telescope but as your curiosity grows you may want to do so and get a better view. Binoculars, so handy for daytime use as well, can provide great pleasure at scanning the stars. The Milky Way in this region bursts with wonder in even common binoculars.
Scorpius contains some marvelous globular star clusters and double stars, within easy reach of a small telescope. Binoculars will show two globular clusters near the bright red star Antares. Known as M4 and M80, they will look like dim patches. A telescope with even medium power will reveal them to be grand cities of stars compacted together.
In the lower left part of Scorpius, in its “tail”, look for the two stars close together and of similar brightness. These are nicknamed the “Cat Eyes” and are visible without optical aid. The stars are named Shaula (on the left) and Lesath.
Keep looking up!
…. Peter W. Becker is managing editor of The News Eagle in Hawley, Pennsylvania. He is happy to receive notes at news@neagle.com; please mention in what newspaper or web site you read Looking Up. Twitter: @TheNewsEagle1